Friday, March 17, 2017

Musical Inspiration for a Friday

I know, I know, it's St. Patrick's Day. You'd think that I'd dip into some Celtic inspired video game music for today, but I decided to go in a different direction.


Jeremy Soule composed this piece for Skyrim, which does have some Celtic overtones to it. For some reason, I missed this particular version when it came out a year ago.


Sid Meier and Company brought back Christopher Tin to compose some pieces for the recently released Civilization VI. This piece, Sogno di Volare ("The Dream of Flight"), has an inspirational feel that would be at home with some of the pieces composed for the Olympics. By comparison, here's John Williams' Call of the Champions for the Salt Lake City Winter Games in 2002:



Finally, here's something that speaks to the majesty of the city of Durin's Folk. I found that I'd missed this music when I returned to the halls of Khazad-dum.


Friday, March 10, 2017

A Neat Honor

I've been avoiding this for the past two weeks, but I think I can't hide any longer.

A long time friend and fellow blogger, Navimie of The Daily Frostwolf - Druid Edition, nominated me for a Real Neat Blog Award. I've been nominated for similar awards before, and they all follow a similar pattern: a shout out to the nominator, answer some questions, and pay it forward by nominating more bloggers and ask them questions.



For me, the easy part is the thanking and nominating. The hard part is answering the questions.

I have a problem where I can sit there and think up multiple answers to a question, and in my own mind find them all equally valid. I was the kid who'd raise his hand during a test and ask the teacher "which are you looking for, the answer "xxx", or the answer "yyy", since you could argue that "yyy" is correct from this angle but "xxx" from another angle.* And if you give me an open ended question...

Yeah, answering questions is my Waterloo.

So here are the three things to do as part of the award:

  1. Thank and link the person who nominated you.
  2. Answer the seven questions your nominator has provided.
  3. Nominate seven other bloggers and create seven questions for them.

I covered item #1 with a reference to Navimie above (/waves).

***

Here are my seven questions (for item #2):

  1. What would constitute a perfect day to you?
  2. Which super villain (if any) do you secretly admire or feel sorry for?
  3. If you had to recommend one book to read, what would it be?
  4. What is something you wish you could do but you can't (eg draw, sing)?
  5. If you could play with someone in World of Warcraft, who would you play with and what would you do with them?
  6. What was the kindest thing anyone has done for you in a computer game?
  7. If you could choose your spirit animal, what would it be?

Okay, here goes:

1. What would constitute a perfect day to you?

I'm a parent and at work I'm on call 24x7. What a perfect day for me is a day of undisturbed peace and solitude, highlighted by a good nap and a hike in the woods followed with some time by a lit fireplace.

I'm not saying I'm not happily married nor happy to be a parent, but a completely stress free day without worrying about this or that would be great.

2. Which super villain (if any) do you secretly admire or feel sorry for?

Most super villains aren't people that you can empathize with. Such charming people as The Joker or the Purple Man tend to bring out the reactions my family has when interacting with a centipede.** The sadist, the merciless crime boss, the purely insane, and the power hungry are all part of the pantheon of super villains.

And several superheroes started out originally as villains and morphed over time into ne'er do well superheroes in their own right, such as Luke Cage, Deadpool, Catwoman, Emma Frost, and Harley Quinn.

But of the major pantheon of super villains, there is one that even in his old villain mode I had a great deal of respect for: Magneto.***

For those who know their history, X-Men was born in the 60s, and provided a mirror to the times.**** Fear of "The Other" --particularly the immigrant and minority communities-- was reflected in humanity's reaction to the mutants. And the mutants themselves were a reflection of the Civil Rights movement, with their two factions' leaders representing opposing viewpoints: Professor X as Martin Luther King and Magneto as Malcolm X.

The X-Men movies enhanced Magneto's stature, emphasizing his response to the anti-mutant sentiment as a Holocaust survivor, with his determination to not have a mutant Holocaust happen again by any means necessary. He is a sympathetic figure, and you can understand his motivations even though you disagree with his actions.

3.If you had to recommend one book to read, what would it be?

Hoo boy.

If you'd have asked me this about 25 years ago, I'd not have hesitated in recommending Lord of the Rings. But over the intervening time, the movies came out and I stepped back from being a rabid Tolkien fan. I figure that people want to read LotR have already done so, as well as Harry Potter, A Game of Thrones, and other series have captured fans.

And really, I've learned from recommending books to my wife that you have to tailor your book recommendations to what people like to read. In her case, just about all SF&F books I've recommended have fallen flat, so I've given up trying. However, there has been one Fantasy series that she really did like, and that was Kristen Britain's Green Rider series. I've only read the first three, because when I read the third I stayed up until 4:30 AM to finish reading it, and I really really don't want to deal with that again for a while.

So I'd have to go with Green Rider, which got someone who prefers non-fiction and literary fiction to read something genre related.

A close second would be Ariana Franklin's Mistress of the Art of Death series, Mystery novels set in the Henry II's England with the hero a Sicilian woman trained in the medical arts and very much a fish out of water in backwards England.

4. What is something you wish you could do but can't (eg draw, sing)?

Given that I'm the only non-musician in the house, you'd think that this answer would be to play an instrument. But I'm actually fine with not being able to play, because I know my mind works in an analytic fashion that tends to clash with creative things such as improvisation.

But what I'd really like to be able to do is just simply "wing it" and be improvisational, whether it is in a meeting, DMing an RPG campaign, or writing. I'm one of those people who have to have all the angles worked out ahead of time, so I wouldn't be stuck saying "Uh....." in front of a crowd. And yes, that has happened to me, back in my college days when I was in Model UN.

I'm simply unable to effectively improvise something, and I'd love to be able to pull that sort of thing off. It would really help in my (feeble) attempts at writing fiction, working on our landscape, or even decorating around the house.*****

5. If you could play with someone in World of Warcraft, who would you play with and what would you do with them?

Back in the days before cross server grouping was allowed, Tam of Righteous Orbs had orchestrated a "bloggers guild" on one of the EU servers. The idea was that WoW bloggers could hang out and play the game with their "virtual kin". In an apt metaphor of blogging everywhere, the guild started out great and then petered out as time went on.

About a year or so later, Vidyala and Rades (of Manalicious, Orcish Army Knife, and From Draenor with Love) created a guild on Moonrunner (US) to hang with some of their fellow (now no longer active) blogger friends, and my Dwarf Paladin joined their small guild. I'll freely admit that I had more than my share of boneheaded moments, like the time in The Stockade when at the final boss a bunch of trash aggroed on me in the final boss fight and rather running to the tank and letting her take over the pull I got the bright idea that she'd be overwhelmed and decided to lead this trash on a merry chase throughout the already cleared instance. No, it was not my finest moment. At all.

But a few years later, when Blizz began to roll out cross server grouping on a test/pay basis, I got an excited ping from Vidyala:

"Red!"
"Hey Vid!"
"Wait a sec, let me try this...."
[Vidyala has asked you to join a group]
[You have joined the group]
"Woooo!!!!!"
"Yay!!!"
"This is awesome!!"

I'd never been able to group up with Vid on her main and my (then) Alliance main, Tomakan, before that moment. It was an exhilarating thing to be able to group up and run an instance or Alterac Valley with a friend's main from another server.

But if there's one thing I'd love to do in WoW once more, it would be to revive the spirit of those two old guilds and get some of my long time blogger friends together again. If there's one thing I really do miss about WoW, it's the discussions and playing around with some of my blogger friends over those years. Given the spectacular disintegration of my Horde guilds and the bleeding dry of the Alliance guild, I've kept the guild/kinship aspect of MMOs at arm's length while I play. But I still miss the shared camaraderie of my blogger friends, because we have shared the experience of loving something so much that we write about it. And it's not an exclusive club by any means --anybody can create a Twitch stream or start a blog-- but that shared experience means we have a connection that the average MMO player doesn't have.

And those bloggers that have gone silent over the years, I really do still miss.

6. What was the kindest thing anyone has done for you in a computer game?

The kindest thing? There was the time when I was in Desolace (Wrath Era), leveling Quintalan to L80, and a max level toon stopped alongside me, told me he was going to unsubscribe, and proceeded to give me a ton of items he'd stored over the years.

There was also the time when I was on Quintalan in The Hinterlands, and a max level alliance toon appeared right beside me. Being on PvP-Stormscale (US) at the time, I thought I was dead. But the toon basically shook her head no, gave me a thumbs up, and went on her way.

There was the time when a friend, knowing that my Alliance guild was all but dead, offered to have me join her guild instead.

But I think the greatest kindness showed me in game was when Soul and his wife had decided that they wanted to get off Stormscale, and rather than leave me behind they sent me a snail mail. Inside, they wrote what they were going to do and rather than leave me --the newbie-- behind they paid my transfer fee.

7. If you could choose your spirit animal, what would it be?

Heh. The oldest mini-Red has seen this design around and wants one for college:

From teespring.com.

But that's obviously not me.

As for a spirit animal, I'd have to go with a wolf. Not sure why, but a wolf it is.

***

Part #3 requires seven bloggers to be nominated and to create seven questions for them. The list is fairly short, since my blogging list is somewhat small these days (and several people on the list have already been tagged), but the questions....

Blogs:

  1. Going Commando (Shintar is also known for Priest with a Cause and Neverwinter Thoughts)
  2. Ravalation
  3. JVT Workshop
  4. Hawtpants of the Old Republic (Njessi is also known for Murloc Parliament)
  5. Tome of the Ancient
  6. MMO Gypsy (Syl can also be heard as one of the three hosts of the Battle Bards podcast.)
  7. Manalicious (I know that Vid has been busy and Manalicious has gone into mothballs, but it's worth a try. She's also known for her artwork on From Draenor With Love and her original blog, Pugging Pally.)


Questions:

  1. What attracted you to blogging as opposed to other forms of social media?
  2. What are your top five movies of all time?
  3. Outside of blogging or gaming, what are you most passionate about?
  4. What is something about you that nobody would ever guess?
  5. What do you find most engaging about gaming?
  6. If you had a chance to go back in time and tell your younger self something, what would you say?
  7. What is your favorite band and why?






*I usually got a stare, then a "Redbeard, sit down and answer the question." I learned the hard way to give the teacher what they wanted, answer-wise. I can play that game if that's what they want. But it goes against my firm belief that you should be honest in your dealings with people. Which, I suppose, makes me a lousy Diplomacy player. Or a lousy office politics player, for that matter.

**"Kill it!! Kill it with fire!!!!" is a typical reaction, as is "DAD!!!! KILL THIS!!!!!"

***He now counts --more or less-- as a superhero in the comic, leading a team of X-Men. Don't ask me any more details, because I'm not up on the X-Men comics.

****Marvel has done this before. Spider-man was a reflection of teenage angst, and both a desire to fit in and finding your way in the world, only under the backdrop of having superpowers.

*****It would have also helped in my attempts at talking to girls when I was a teen and a college student. As for my wife, you may ask? She asked me out, not the other way around.


EtA: Added Syl's other work to the MMO Gypsy listing.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Miscellaneous Wednesday Thoughts

Playing through the Rise of Isengard expansion in LOTRO, I learned that the Rohirrim vendor in Dunland is not from the Riders of Rohan expac after all, but the other main reputation faction for that expac. I shouldn't have been surprised by that, but somehow that possibility slipped my mind.

Not that I took advantage of either faction's rewards, because I'd kind of outleveled the area before I exited Dunland itself. In fact, I got the Riders of Rohan starting e-mail while I was still in Dunland, which left me puzzled. Oh, not the fact that I reached L75, but who the relatively cryptic e-mail was talking about.*

***

The Turbine/Standing Stone version of Theodred makes him seem like he'd have been a great king. He actually presented a pretty good case analysis of Saruman, but unfortunately he didn't realize one thing: Saruman had already been cautious in his build-up and had the overwhelming force he needed.

More scouting/spying would have helped here.

***

Overheard on SWTOR's Taris Chat:

Player 1: "Did you see the new trailer?"
[Several people]: "Yes. It's a fake!!"
Player 1: "Yeah, but they used Old Republic clips in there!"
Me: "It's not the first time, and it won't be the last."
Player 2: "I wonder how many people saw "4th" on the upload date and thought "OMG! This must be real!"
Me: "May the 4th: Star Wars. March the 4th: Basketball. Star Wars. Basketball."
Player 2: "This basketball.... Is it like Huttball?"
Me: "Yes, but with 100% fewer Hutts."

***

...and one "uh oh" moment...

I've been grinding a few deeds in Moria, and I was finishing up an explorer deed in Flaming Deeps when I saw someone ask on World Chat where a good place in Nud Melek was so jump and die that wasn't part of the Bridge of Khazad-dum.

"Going for the hidden achievement, eh?" someone replied.

Hidden achievement? Hmm... I looked over the edge of where I was standing, and suddenly my fear of heights kicked in.

On an MMO.

Oh, nope nope nope nope nope......





*Smart move, devs, to not give anything away. "Gandalf? Is it Gandalf? Oh, I'd love it to be Gandalf!!" [Gets a bit farther in the Epic Questline] "Oh. Not Gandalf. Well, that was unexpected."

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Hail and Well Met

Some thunderstorms and the occasional stray tornado blew through our area last night. Luckily the damage found nearby was minimal --only a few downed wires and flash floods-- but the lightning and wind woke me up at around 1:30 AM. I rolled over and eventually went back to sleep, but in that half-awake state I mumbled to myself that "at least I didn't have to worry about this crap on Taris."

Hail this size you won't find in a steaming jungle with toxic swamps.

Which actually was a pretty good point.

Well, outside of the fact that I'm not so sure I'd want to fight Rakghouls and thunderstorms at the same time: "Rak-nado! Coming to the SyFy Channel in 2018!"

Weather has always been a tricky thing in MMOs. The classic single world MMO, such as WoW or LOTRO, could have weather easily integrated into it, but the multiple world MMO (such as SWTOR and to a minor extent Wildstar*) weather takes a back seat to an individual world's atmosphere. Think of it this way: while you can spend a lot of time --gamewise-- in a WoW zone or an entire continent (think Northrend, for example), your average time spent on a small slice of a planet in SWTOR is comparatively small.

But even on games such as WoW, region shaking weather such as a monsoon or a hurricane or even thunderstorms is a very rare event.

The only pure weather event that I can think of that I see with (somewhat) regularity is the numbing and visibility killing fog that emanates out of Forochel in Middle-earth. I've seen that fog creep all the way down to Evendim** from time to time, which causes massive visibility issues for a game that tends to rely upon old-style line of sight for figuring out where the maguffin you're supposed to find is located. But rain and snow in LOTRO aren't that big of a deal, just like how they are in WoW.

From hiveminer.com and flicker.com.
When it is nighttime, that fog is really creepy.

In fact, I'd argue that the only big "weather" event for WoW was back in Cataclysm, when Deathwing would randomly blast an area with his dragonfire in a "hellfire and damnation" souped-up version of a global/raid/world boss.

My "Stood in the Fire" achievement came in the
Blasted Lands after a 5-man run, but I unfortunately never
took a screenshot. This was from viktdk.wordpress.com.

The big problem with a huge weather event is that it would require more than just "oh look, rain" on screen. You need to implement a form of phasing, where you have trees losing branches and rain (or snow or hail) bouncing off of houses and other "background" items. And for all of that effort, you'd expect the devs to put in a few quests as well. I mean, why go to all that extra work just for a background effect when people are clamoring for raids, instances, and questlines? I can see where at the height of WoW the devs there could tinker with that sort of thing, but the age of the 10 million subscriber MMO seems to have passed, taking with it the budget necessary for such side projects.

In the end, I guess that MMOs will continue to do what they have, and have a region with "rain" or "snow flurries" which turns on and off from time to time. It's a shame, really, because no matter how MMOs add and modify regions, without the impact of weather --and severe weather-- the world will feel static after a while.

Without having to worry about dodging downed tree branches.





*For those not aware, in Wildstar some of the zones are actually on moons of Nexus.

**Unless that's a bug, but hey, I don't mind bugs like that.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

In Memoriam: Loren K. Wiseman

One of the RPG design greats, Loren K. Wiseman, passed away on February 15th.

No, Loren isn't the household name that Gary Gygax was, but he was a very influential RPG designer in his own right. He was a co-founder of Games Design Workshop (GDW), and a co-creator of the SF RPG Traveller. Later, he was a designer on the Steve Jackson Games' interpretation of the Traveller universe, GURPS Traveller.

This is a decade old fan made video promoting
the Traveller RPG. It uses the Pirates of 
the Caribbean theme to great effect.

I've never had the chance to play classic Traveller, but I've designed a campaign for the Mongoose Publishing version of Traveller, and have been waiting for some free time to run a campaign with the mini-Reds. Traveller is one of those RPGs that has a reputation, mainly because the character creation process involved your character having a "career" prior to joining your adventures. And yes, Classic Traveller had the possibility that your character would die during the career phase. (Honest!) Later versions of Traveller have done away with that aspect of character creation, but the Mongoose version does retain the possibility that your character suffers an injury that generates minuses on your character sheet.

As for GDW, it was a very influential wargame publisher and competitor to Avalon Hill and SPI in the late 70s and 80s. I've played a game or two of GDW's arguably most well known title, A House Divided*, and it is a good introduction into the overall strategies that went into the ACW. It is by no means a very deep or "authentic" game --you'll likely want to look at GMT Games' For The People for that-- but it is a fun game that can still be found today.

This is the version I'm most familiar with.
From Rick Byrens, via boardgamegeek.com.
Loren was active on the Steve Jackson Games' forums, where I conversed with him once or twice. He always seemed like a nice guy who simply loved making games.

He'll be missed.





*It's a grand strategy game of the American Civil War, now published by Mayfair Games.


Monday, February 13, 2017

A Cloud of Doom Following Me

On certain MMOs, such as LOTRO or SWTOR, you have a feel for what is going to come. In SWTOR, the more class stories you play, the more you find recurring NPCs. It feels distinctly weird when you know the ultimate fate of those NPCs when you encounter them on another class story, like Ianna Cel on Taris. For those who have played mainly Republic toons, Ianna does make an appearance in an Imperial class story.*

I've occasionally wondered whether her students have
questioned her ethics in pursuit of her goals.
From swtor-spy.com

Star Trek Online had a mid-teens questline where a Federation toon has to go back in time to save an outpost from an attack from "ghosts" (it's a Next Gen baddie), and you encounter McCoy and Scotty on the outpost. It feels, well, weird seeing them in their TOS uniforms, knowing how things work out for them in the movies and in the Next Gen television series.
Bones was on the station a year prior to joining
Kirk and the rest of the Enterprise crew.
From sto.gamepedia.com.

In WoW, you get that feeling of impending doom the most when the Bronze Dragonflight drafts you into correcting the timeline, most notably in the 5-man instances and raids from the BC and Wrath expansions. My personal favorite is the Culling of Stratholme, because you get the long intro grounding the WC3 era instance with the current Wrath timeline. And for those of us who have never played any of the Warcraft RTS games, it's quite the revelation. Sure, we knew that Arthas became the Lich King, because reasons, but it's a surprise that he made the leap from "infected grain" to "kill everybody to keep the Scourge of Undeath from spreading". It's the equivalent of saying "there's an ebola outbreak in Orlando, Florida, so let's nuke the entire city just to make sure we've got it contained."

This is the part that everybody skips, so I
thought it a good idea to post this YouTube
clip for reference. (Berial92 posted it.)

But LOTRO has the dubious distinction of having the overall plot known to tens of millions of people throughout the world, and millions of those people know a ton of minute detail about Middle-earth. And no matter what you try, you know how things will work out in the end.

Take the Dunlendings, for example.

You spend the second part of the Grey Company Epic Questline in Enedwaith, trying to assess the threat of the Dunlendings and attempting to get them to resist Saruman.** But the thing is, people who have read the appendices in The Return of the King know the ultimate result: Saruman dominates the Dunlendings, and gets them to join with his uruks to attack Rohan.

And when I reached Dunland itself and not only began working the Epic Questline but landed enough LOTRO points to get Rise of Isengard,*** I discovered similar feelings of anguish. I cruised through the Dunland and encountered Prince Theodred, son of King Theoden of Rohan. I wanted to somehow warn him of the impending doom he faced, but I knew that was just not possible. Nor would I have been able to change the future, because LOTRO's writers have done a good job of making an impeding train wreck seem avoidable, even plausible, until in-game reality kicks you in the pants.
Grimbold, about the night your liege goes back
in time....Oh wait, wrong franchise.

Makes me wonder how Cassandra must have felt.****






*I'd kind of like to have seen Thana Vesh in a Republic class story, but no such luck. She's an NPC who pretty much dominates every conversation that she's involved with.

**The first part of the questline is simply "getting the band back together" before they head off in response to Aragorn's Galadriel's summons.

***I've discovered that one way of racking up LOTRO points is to work on alts. And since I now have 8 slots courtesy of a premium account I can collect LOTRO points a lot more quickly. (The number 8 came from 7 slots for premium account, which is like the SWTOR mid-tier in that you have to have purchased coins/points/whatever using money, and 1 for purchasing that separately from the LOTRO store prior to me spending the money in the first place.)

****From Greek Mythology, she was the daughter of King Priam of Troy who was (in)famous for making prophecies that were never believed, courtesy of a curse Apollo inflicted on her for not succumbing to his advances.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Finding Value out of Gaming

Rocky: I can't do it.
Adrian: What?
Rocky: I can't beat him.
Adrian: Apollo?
Rocky: Yeah. I've been out there walking around, thinking. I mean, who am I kidding? I ain't even in the guy's league.
Adrian: (sighs) What're we gonna do?
Rocky: I dunno.
Adrian: You worked so hard.
Rocky: Yeah, it don't matter. Because I was nobody before.
Adrian: Don't say that.
Rocky: C'mon, Adrian. It's true. I was nobody. But it don't matter either, y'know? 'Cause I was thinking. It really don't matter if I lose this fight. It really don't matter if this guy opens my head, either. 'Cause all I wanna do is go the distance. Nobody's ever gone the distance with Creed. And if I can go that distance, see, if that bell rings and I'm still standing, I'm gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I wasn't just another bum from the neighborhood.
--From Rocky (1976). Screenplay by Sylvester Stallone.



As I've occasionally alluded to in past posts, gaming is something I've done since I was a kid. I'm old enough to (barely) remember Pong when it came out, but I grew up in a household that played a lot of classic board and card games.* But at the same time, my parents got caught up in the Satanic Panic of the 80s and threw out our D&D collection right before I finished 8th Grade, and while I was allowed to play video games on our old Texas Instruments home computer, we never had a gaming console.**

And I still never understood the difference between playing Tunnels of Doom on the TI-99/4A and cracking open a Players Handbook and playing a Paladin.

Ooo, a chest!
From crpgaddict.blogspot.com.

Oh sure, the video game is pretty much an abstract dungeon crawl, but the dungeons my friends and I made back in the early 80s were pretty similar as well.*** Even Tunnels of Doom had Demons as monsters at the bottom levels of the dungeon, so you can't argue that there wasn't a "Satanic" aspect to the game. The only thing I can think of is that D&D and the other pencil and paper RPGs encouraged imagination, which when coupled to what the Satanic Panic people called "the occult", led to people going down a Dark Path.

Hey, look! An AD&D Players Handbook!!
From Army of Darkness and makeagif.com.
"Klaatu... Verata... Mlkhpffphff."
You know, the whole Necronomicon/Evil Book concept.

***

The reason why I'm bringing this up again is that I've been doing some thinking about what gaming has meant to me over the years.

While it has meant a primary form of physical interaction between people --friends and acquaintances sitting around a table or a television set-- it has also meant something more.

Games as Generational Connections

It's no secret that I've used games to hang around with my kids. The mini-Reds have been indoctrinated into gamer culture from a young age, and they've grown to become gamers themselves. Whereas other families might discuss sports****, we discuss games. Gen Con is an annual pilgrimage. Smash Bros games devolve into frenetic free-for-alls with all the excited screams and boasts that you'd see on a basketball court.

Some of my favorite memories as a father have come from gaming as well, such as the time when I first introduced the mini-Reds to RPGs, using the Savage Worlds system and a pulp setting from Triple Ace Games to give the kids a chance to be their own Indiana Jones. Or the time when my brother-in-law ran a Pathfinder one-shot for me and the mini-Reds, and the youngest mini-Red went off script and did something totally unexpected and stuck her PC's hand in the fire in the center of the room we were exploring.***** Or the times I ran instances with them in SWTOR and LOTRO.

I've no doubt that when my oldest goes off to college I'll use MMOs to keep in touch with her. I can imagine her occasionally logging into SWTOR or LOTRO to just putz around and occasionally group up, just before heading out to dinner or hanging out with friends.


Both are from giphy.com, and from Field of Dreams.
Go ahead and get a tissue. That scene, where Ray talks with
the ghost of his father, still tears me up.

Games as Emotional Grounding

I may have played sports, but I was no jock.

It may come as a surprise to those who never played competitive or select sports, but there is a hierarchy to those who play team sports. The starters and main subs off the bench get the lion's share of attention, and the rest of the subs are, for all intents and purposes, there to round out a large enough of a squad for practices. Some teams have a byrule of having everybody play at least part of every game, but the competitive/select teams do not; they want to win, not build character.******

However, just because you play sports doesn't mean that you're a jock or a member of jock culture. I was always an outsider on the teams that I played on; I had different interests than most of my teammates, and I never hung around with them outside of practice or games. Perhaps this was best illustrated during the basketball banquet during my 8th Grade: the team was gathered to one side, and everybody had a chair to sit on.... Except me. None were to be seen, so I had to stand.

From all over the internet. Really. I found
at least six links without even trying hard.

And people wondered why I never hung out with the jocks outside of practice and games.

RPGs gave me a chance to feel worthwhile when life stuck me on the low end of the school pecking order. You get the ability to be the hero of your own adventure, working with friends to achieve a goal worthy of an SF&F novel. And for a kid who was head over heels into JRR Tolkien, there wasn't much more than I could want.

CRPGs and MMOs have a similar appeal, where you're the hero of the story, but instead of purely in the mind's eye you can see it up there on the screen. It also allows you to feel like you matter on no small level, and to an insecure kid that can mean a lot.

If there's one thing that I would wish for our community, it is that we open our arms more to embrace the marginalized. It's pretty well known that the gamer community has issues with people who want to shut the door and pretend that games and gamers are an exclusive boys club, behaving like the Puritans once they reached the shores of New England.# RPG companies and gamers have come a long way, but we've got a long way to go.

We're not there yet, but I really love this drawing.
From imgur.com/gallery/MZwow


Games as Drama##

Sure, there are your games that are abstract or have a minimal theme --such as Checkers or Go-- but unless the drama involves telling tales about escapades in a game of Poker, there's not much in the way of drama to those games. I don't look at the Euro boardgame Puerto Rico and think that there's a lot of drama in shipping goods as a colonial governor. Still, drama can leak in from player interaction or an epic match ("Dude, remember that time I only had a rook and a king and I STILL beat you?"), but RPGs have drama built into their DNA. CRPGs and MMOs have a story to tell, and you're along for the ride. Want to be Link and save the world (again)? Shepard needs to fight the Reapers and save the galaxy, are you game? I hear the Burning Legion has returned to Azeroth and the Horde/Alliance need heroes; are you up for it?

Even games that are more about the fights and bashing skulls (such as Bayonetta, Gears of War, or God of War) have a story to them. Drama can be interchanged for "plot" at this point, but in an RPG it means more because you want to feel like your choices matter. Non-MMO CRPGs can pull this off more easily because the developers can accommodate different choices in-game, but MMOs have the great advantage of player interaction that a CRPG can't hope to match. A visit to any MMO gamer blog will demonstrate the value of player interactions to an MMO player. Sure, there are people who are present to play the economic game or "win" the raiding/PvP game, but the reason why they play an MMO versus a single player CRPG is because you can hang with and fight alongside your friends (or friends of convenience).

Franchise fans are their own geek subgroup, too.
Hey I could have put Trekkies or Tolkien fans here, but at least
Zelda is CRPG related.  From Pinterest.

The pencil and paper games, RPGs and theme heavy boardgames, have drama as part of their central makeup. The whole point of RPGs is to get friends together and tell a story, whether that is by exploring a dungeon, taking part in an epic quest, or even dealing with eking out a living on the edges of the galaxy. The heavily thematic boardgames, such as Runebound or Fury of Dracula, borrow from RPGs to help the players tell a story while playing the game.

Of course, unintended drama can wreck a game. I've been in guilds that have imploded because of unnecessary drama, D&D groups that blew up because they either got too large or we weren't following the DM's direction to take the game###. And yes, I've been in game groups that had issues where the DM's SO received preferential treatment. It wasn't pleasant.

If you've ever been a DM, you'll appreciate this.
My oldest looked at the last one especially and laughed.
The place where I found this (via Google search) doesn't resolve anymore,
so I've no idea who to attribute it to.
Not everybody likes drama. Hell, look at the complaints about Dragon Age 2 from a story perspective and you see that a certain subset of gamers simply do not like games that emphasized story at (what they thought) was the expense of gameplay, as if it was a zero sum game. My wife still is reluctant to play pencil and paper RPGs because an ex was an obsessive controlling DM, and rightly or wrongly she internally associates "asshat ex-boyfriend" with playing RPGs. Games such as Mario Kart or Settlers of Catan are much more in her wheelhouse, because she prefers to not go too heavily into drama (both good and bad).

But in the end, the bonds you make in a guild or a gaming group can last a lifetime; you fought together, laughed together, goofed around together, and even cried together. Friendships like that are what keep game worlds alive.

***

Gaming has certainly changed me, given me an anchor, and helped me with my empathy. As a social outcast growing up, gaming was a lifeline to get me to interact with people that I would ordinarily never associate with. I'm still not perfect; I can tend to act like a mother hen to my friends (online and offline) when I should simply just keep my mouth shut and let them deal with their own shit the way they want to####. But gaming has made me more empathetic, more loyal, and more outgoing than I would have been without it. Sure, it's not like my Dad is going to call me up to talk about the latest expac in SWTOR or WoW#####, but when a bunch of my friends get together to play some Smash Bros and boardgames, we've got that same connection.

Okay, enough about me. What about you? What have games and gaming meant to you? How do they define you (if at all)? Do they keep you going, do they inspire you, and do they help you connect with people?





*Rook? Yep. Uncle Wiggly? Played it. Hearts? Of course; I thought I was really good at Hearts until I got to college and would routinely get my ass handed to me by my dorm friends. As for other games that people might not know much about today, Authors springs to mind. I think I still have my card deck of Authors around somewhere; I'll have to keep an eye out for it the next time I clean parts of the basement.

**True story: to get me to work on my free throws for basketball, my dad made me a deal that if I made 10 free throws in a row we would get an Atari 2600 console. I spent the better part of that summer and fall trying for that elusive 10 in a row, because I wanted to spend more than 5 minutes at a time playing Asteroids. After countless tries, one day the next summer I finally reached that goal only to have my dad renege on his promise.

***My very first adventure consisted of the following encounter: "You open the door at the end of the hallway and see 10 RED DRAGONS!!!" Needless to say, this 1st Level Fighter died.

****We still talk about college basketball a bit, but not to the extent that my neighbors talk about sports with their kids, or even I talk about sports with my father.

*****My brother-in-law did what any good DM does, and he improvised. He caused a spectre to arise out of the flaming brazier and attack her, which was a bit of a problem because we were already in a fight with some goblins. My youngest's two siblings stared at her, aghast. "What did you go and do THAT for??!!!" one of them wailed. "I wanted to see what would happen," she replied, nonplussed. (For the record, we did survive, but that was because I was the Cleric. As usual.)

******Sure, if you go to a random select team's website they'll say that they want to build character and sportsmanship, but my experiences say "win first, everything else second".

#It wasn't until I went to college that I was exposed to gamer girls, and I look back on my early days playing D&D with regret that I didn't think of asking any of the girls I knew if they wanted to pay. I'd vowed to not make the same mistake with my kids, and the mini-Reds have all grown up to become gamers in their own right.

##I could have easily called this the "Bioware Section", but they don't have a monopoly on good drama within a game. It only seems they do.

###My current D&D 3.0 game group grew out of one such blowup back in college. The DM had scripted everything --and I do mean everything-- to the point where we felt like we were there just to be "yes men" to his dramatic writing. When any of us wanted to do something offbeat or wanted to follow something not on the script, he blew up. Needless to say, he decided that we weren't worth his time and walked out, and one of us said "Hey, I've been a DM before. I'll take over and we'll start from scratch."

####"Stop being a creeper, Dad." "You're not an amateur psychologist, Red. Shut up." I've heard them plenty of times. At the same time, if somebody needs a hand or wants to talk, I want to be there for them. I remember what it's like to be isolated and not have anyone to talk to.

#####For the record, he calls almost daily during college basketball season. There's always a game going on that provides (you guessed it) drama.